Positive student-teacher relationships are integral to students’ social and academic lives (Hamre & Pianta, 2010). Students with caring, positive relationships with their teachers have been shown to have better well-being (Braun et al., 2019), increased prosocial behaviours (Wentzel, 2002), and more engagement and success in school (Engels et al., 2016).
Many things can contribute to more positive student-teacher relationships, such as fostering mindfulness (Braun et al., 2019) and reducing teacher stress and burnout (S. Yoon, 2006). Explore the buttons below for helpful strategies and important considerations for building positive relationships between teachers and students.
Strategies for Building Student-Teacher Relationships
There are many simple strategies for building closer relationships with students, many of which teachers do naturally already. The following are some fun and effective ways to foster caring student-teacher relationships:
- Find something you like about every student (especially the challenging ones).
- Lead with curiosity and compassion, rather than judgment. Maybe try out some mindfulness practices and training!
- Lunch dates. Either one-on-one, or in small groups, invite students to “lunch dates” in your classroom throughout the school year. Establish these as ‘non-school-related’ visits, where students can talk about anything they want in their lives.
- Greet students at the door. Research has shown that when teachers start the day by welcoming their students at the door – with a wave, a special dance move or handshake, and their name, students’ academic engagement improved and disruptive behaviour decreased significantly.
- “Two-by-Ten.” Here, teachers focus on their most difficult student. For two minutes each day, 10 days in a row, teachers have a personal conversation with the student about anything the student is interested in.
- Take care of your own well-being. Stress is contagious (Oberle & Schonert-Reichl, 2016), but so is calmness, kindness, warmth, and support. Your own well-being filters down to students’ well-being, through your interactions, your sense of efficacy in the classroom, and through how you model (consciously or unconsciously) stress-management skills (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009).
- Finally, embrace and practice Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) – both your own and fostering it in your students. Building social and emotional competencies (SECs) through SEL, such as self-awareness and self-management and social awareness and relationship skills, has been shown to foster positive relationships in the classroom.
Reducing Stress & Burnout
Stress is contagious – especially in a classroom (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009; Oberle & Schonert-Reichl, 2016). It comes as no surprise that research clearly demonstrates when teachers are stressed, they feel less efficacious in the classroom and their relationships with their students suffer (Harding et al., 2019). Unfortunately, the teaching profession is also one of the most stressful human-service jobs (Gallup, 2013; Montgomery & Rupp, 2005).
Some common sources of teacher stress are workload, lack of administrative support, student behavioural problems, and limited resources and job autonomy (Haydon et al., 2018; The Pennsylvania State University, 2017). Managing the sources and symptoms of teachers stress is a foundational step towards fostering healthier and more positive classroom relationships and climates.
Approaches to manage teacher stress can be categorized from organizational (i.e., changing workplace culture) to more individual interventions (e.g., SEL programs, mindfulness practices). Some of the most effective stress management policies and practices are:
- Teacher mentoring programs
- Workplace wellness initiatives
- School-wide and classroom-based SEL programs (see SEL tab)
- Mindfulness interventions and practices (see Mindfulness tab)
Mindfulness in Teaching
Mindfulness in education has emerged as an important approach to fostering healthy and compassionate classrooms (Schonert-Reichl & Roeser, 2016). Mindfulness includes a cultivation of attention to and awareness of ones’ thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and environment – through an open, curious, and non-judgemental approach (Bishop et al.,2004. As such, mindfulness practices train the brain to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings in the present moment, without judging them.
Although popularized in the secular realm by Dr. John Kabat-Zinn in 1979, practices of mindfulness have existed for centuries as part of Buddhist meditative practice, indigenous ways of knowing, and other traditional practices. Mindful teaching, in particular, is expected to benefit both teachers and students in the classroom as it promotes greater teacher well-being and more positive student-teacher relationships (Braun et al., 2019; Molloy Elreda et al., 2019). Specifically, higher teacher mindfulness has been shown to be associated with fewer reports of stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression (Braun et al., 2018; Lueke & Gibson, 2015), as well as greater emotional support and perspective-taking in interactions with students, and more use proactive and less reactive classroom management strategies (Becker at al., 2017).
Furthermore, research has shown that when teachers exhibit more mindfulness, this lead to greater student mindfulness and more equity and cohesion in the classroom (Braun et al., 2018; Colaianne et al., 2020; Lueke & Gibson, 2015).
There are a handful of evidence-based mindfulness training programs specifically designed for teachers that have been shown to improve teachers’ well-being, such as Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) Links to an external site. and MindUP for Educators Links to an external site.. There is also constantly growing resources for self-guided mindfulness practices for teachers.
- Try using a short mindfulness check-in every morning, like a short mindful breathing or body scan can help us recognize the emotions and emotional scripts we are bringing into the classroom.
- Taking a mindful breath before responding to a challenging behaviour can increase restorative solutions and reduce punitive and reactionary responses. The best thing about this is we can use this and model to our students what we are doing (and encourage them to do the same). For example “I am taking three breaths to calm my body, because I am feeling frustrated/angry/hyper before I respond.”
- Mindful tasting: Take a moment to drink your coffee slowly, eat your breakfast with intention, and notice all the smells, tastes, textures, sounds, and sights of what you are enjoying – and how your body feels.
- Mindfulness Apps are a great way to practice mindfulness (you can even set reminders). There are many apps available. HeadSpace or Mindfulness Coach Links to an external site. are just two examples (when downloading and trying any app, it is important to review their privacy policies and/or hidden costs before committing.
For more strategies:
- Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Strategies for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom (Book by Dr. Patricia Jennings). View a summary of some key messages of the book
- Edutopia has a wealth of articles and blog posts about Mindfulness in Education.
- A collection of mindfulness practices specifically tailored to elementary schools.
Jennings, P. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). The prosocial classroom: Teacher social and emotional competence in relation to student and classroom outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 79(1), 491-525.
Oberle, E., & Schonert-Reichl, K. A. (2016). Stress contagion in the classroom? The link between classroom teacher burnout and morning cortisol in elementary school students. Social Science & Medicine, 159, 30-37.
Reducing Stress & Burnout
Gallup (2013). State of American Schools: The Path To Winning Again in Education.
Harding, S., Morris, R., Gunnell, D., Ford, T., Hollingworth, W., Tilling, K., . . . Kidger, J. (2019). Is teachers’ mental health and wellbeing associated with students’ mental health and wellbeing? Journal of Affective Disorders, 253, 460-466
Haydon, T., Leko, M. M., & Stevens, D. (2018). Teacher Stress: Sources, Effects, and Protective Factors. Journal of Special Education Leadership, 31(2).
The Pennsylvania State University (2017). Teacher Stress and Health: Effects on Teachers, Students, and Schools. www.rwjf.org/socialemotionallearning.Links to an external site.
Becker, B. D., Gallagher, K. C., & Whitaker, R. C. (2017). Teachers’ dispositional mindfulness and the quality of their relationships with children in Head Start classrooms. Journal of School Psychology, 65, 40-53.
Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., … & Devins, G. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical psychology: Science and Practice, 11(3), 230
Braun, S. S., Roeser, R. W., Mashburn, A. J., & Skinner, E. (2019). Middle school teachers’ mindfulness, occupational health and well-being, and the quality of teacher-student interactions. Mindfulness, 10(2), 245–255. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-018-0968-2Links to an external site.
Colaianne, B. A., Galla, B. M., & Roeser, R. W. (2020). Perceptions of mindful teaching are associated with longitudinal change in adolescents’ mindfulness and compassion. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 44(1), 41-50.
Lueke, A., & Gibson, B. (2015). Mindfulness meditation reduces implicit age and race bias: The role of reduced automaticity of responding. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6(3), 284–291. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550614559651Molloy Elreda, L., Jennings, P. A., DeMauro, A. A., Mischenko, P. P., & Brown, J. L. (2019). Protective effects of interpersonal mindfulness for teachers’ emotional supportiveness in the classroom. Mindfulness, 10(3), 537-546.
Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Roeser, R. W. (Eds.). (2016). Handbook of mindfulness in education: Integrating theory and research into practice. Springer.